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SRT: The Strength of a Seed

SRT: The Strength of a Seed

Monday June 15 2020

In the continuing series marking the 50th anniversary of Church of Scotland SRT (Society, Religion and Technology), Ruth Bancewicz looks at churches engaging with science.

As I write, spring is filling the air with birdsong, the breeze coming through my window is mild, and the back garden is full of new green leaves. As a Scot abroad (down in Cambridge) I find the summer days very short, but I do appreciate the fact that we have some of the mildest weather in the UK. I expect that by the time this is published, you will be experiencing similar spring-like conditions up north!

My studies in biology have given me a different kind of appreciation for what goes on at this time of year as the days lengthen and the weather becomes milder. One of the all-time wonders of the living world is the emergence of seedlings from the dead-looking brown things that people put under the soil. I recently learned something very surprising about  seeds. I already knew that some plants produce seeds that need to lie in the soil for years before they can germinate, and others must be exposed to fire, but I didn’t know that some could last longer than the oldest tree on earth and still produce a living shoot.

There is a league table of long-lived seeds that scientists have managed to coax into germinating. The outright winners so far were from the narrow-leafed campion, which had been buried by squirrels in the Siberian permafrost over 30,000 years ago. The scientists who persuaded these seeds to grow didn’t just manage to produce little green shoots that died after a few days, but the plants matured and produced seeds of their own.

1 Peter 1:23 says: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” For me, the 30,000 year-old campion plants help create a picture of what sort of longevity can be achieved with even a perishable seed –
never mind an imperishable one.

The Church of Scotland’s Society Religion and Technology Project (SRTP), now part of the Faith Impact Forum, has been encouraging the Church to engage with science in relevant ways for the past fifty years. Much of their work involves digging into current issues, addressing ethical topics, and equipping the church to have a voice on how we should use new technologies. But there is another side to this work that is less headline-grabbing
but equally important.

In difficult times, we in the church can lift our eyes and our spirits by drawing attention to the wonders of God’s creation. We may be suffering the effects of living in a fallen world, but we can’t escape the overriding goodness of God’s creation. New life bursts out wherever you look: moss grows in the gutters, birds nest on buildings, and flowers burst out of cracks in the pavement. All life needs is a little sunlight, water, air, and a few minerals – it’s unstoppable.

If we can look at our surroundings with fresh eyes, we may see opportunities to engage with science in ways that draw people into new conversations that bring joy and life this summer. Can those of us who live near science parks thank the biotech companies that not only bring
life-saving therapies, but delve into the depths of the wonders of the cell? Or what about agriculturalists, who make good use of satellite data as well as a working knowledge of the creatures hidden away in the soil? There is much to celebrate, and hope in the processes that bring life to so many.

Ruth Bancewicz is Church Engagement Director at The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion.